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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  February 17, 2013 1:00pm-1:30pm EST

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>> up next, akbar ahmed sat down to discuss this latest book, "the thisle and the drone". this interview record at american university here in washington, dc is part of book tv's college series. it's about half an hour.
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>> host: and book tv is on location at american university in washington, dc, and we're pleased to be joined here by professor akbar ahmed, professor of islamic studies at american university. his most recent book is the thisle and the drone. how america's war on terror became a global war on tribal islam. >> guest: is america's global war on terrorism a class of civilizations or a class of religions. >> guest: i would woo say at it more complex. i find these a clash of civilize and other concept related to this rather simplistic, and by now, ten years -- more than ten years after 9/11, we should be aware of the complexity of what is happening on the ground abroad where america is involved in various wars. i final that many of these
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conflicts are rooted in the clash already taking place before 9/11 between central government and the tribes and communities on their borders, on the areas between states. so, therefore, without an understanding of local culture or history, it's impossible to implosion immiss stick notions. i know we here in the united states sigh this as a class of civilization but talk to one? iran or yemen and they will just look aghast at the concept there's a clash of civilizations. 90% of the survey had no idea what 9/11 was or who osama bin laden was. so, of there, we have to be very careful of how we are analyzing the contemporary world, and i maintain there's a crisis already existing in those parts of the world that the united states has now drifted into and got involved in local conflict.
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>> host: so ambassador ahmed, do locals in afghanistan, different tribes, see the u.s. as attacking their personal tribe or see their own afghanistan government? >> guest: peter, you have now raised a very important question. you raised the third actor. so you have the united states, you have the tribes, and you now rates the idea of the central government as a third person. you have a triangle and that is the complexity that is often overlooked. the central government has its open relationship with its own periphery, and very often it's a troubled one. go to the middle east, not africa, central asia, and you'll find this pattern. if the central government is tolerant and open and inclusive and gives it citizens the rights they deserve, to freedom to education, health, job opportunities, there's no
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problem. if it suppresses and suppresses and prewitt brailizes its own population you have problem. whether it's iraq and saddam hussein or sirral and brutalization of the people you. see the same pat turn. gadhafi, the eastern tribes, the benghazi people. so the pattern exists throughout the case studies we have looked at, and we have looked at 40 case studies. so it makes it a global study of what is going on in the world. >> host: if you would take pakistan as a case study and walk us through the different tribes and the situation in your home country. >> guest: pakistan is a central piece of the study. why? because the tribal areas is one of the most targeted places on earth for the drone program waziristan is one of the most highly tribal societies on the face of the earth and it's
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traditionally never been completely conquered or subdued or incorporated into any government. it is part of pakistan, and yet it maintains -- the tribes maintain their own independence and great pride in their open culture and old traditions. now, what they're finding -- i'm talking about the ordinary tribes and not these bad guys -- what the ordinary tribes have found -- think about it. put yourself in the shoes of the tribe and like atticus finch in to kill a mocking bird. get under their sking. one day being blown up by helicopter and artillery, next day by the crazy suicide bombers. the third day by tribal rivals. the fourth day by drone strikes, and in complete desperation he sends somebody out to waziristan , huge chunks living in cities as destitute refugees, and every day is like 9/11 for us. so, again, go back to the man in
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the village, and particularly the impact on women and children. whatever the debate about drones, remember there's a model humanitarian dimension that is missing. the impact on women and children is devastating and this has been documented in studies like the recent one by stanford and new york university. >> host: you mentioned drones and a lot of your book, your newest book, the thisle this --e and the drone, and the debate in washington. what's the view of drones in these tribal areas, afghanistan, pakistan? >> guest: again, peter, you use the word debate. there is a debate in the united states. it's just starting and it will pick up. but the debate implies two opposing points of view. the donate americaer americaer - the debate in america is one sided. i would like too hear from of
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yemen. somalis, who are vices to the drone strikes, what they think and how they're respond the drone. we don't hear their voices. well in this book we do hear their voices and they say, life for us is sure hell. what have we done to do this? they literally say this. one said this is like a genocide. how are we to blame for some crazy guys who did something on 9/11? and it's all being visited on us. these are very impoverished areas. literacy rates, facilities like education are barely -- they're nonexistent. and on top of that, you have this violent instant flicked on them. so you can imagine the despair and desperation. from that you have the breakdown of the -- traditional structures. tribal society rests on three
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pillars. tribal leadership, biased on jeanol, religious leadership, and central government. all three pillars stand demolished in waziristan. and the people who have targeted them are these suicide bombers. they have killed something like 400 elders of waziristan. that's decapitating an entire society. literally like knocking off someone's head. it's head less society in that society, along comes the drone. what do you expect the next generation to be doing? and you have drones -- the suicide bombers now blowing themselves up in schools, in mosques, bus stops. it's completely a breakdown of society. and at it affecting a big nation, pakistan is a nation of 185 million people. it's nuclear and it is very troubled about the idea of the drone. apart from talk of violating national borders, et cetera, is
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the model i mention that has upset and has really agitated people. >> host: ambassador, you talk about president obama having a -- of drones sunny these are the reports published about the relationship with president obama and the drones. the rolling stone article says, -- i would have thought this temperment -- a camp passion not man i would have thought he would handle it differently but the use of drone has gone up exponentially and the impact on both societies has been devastating. so, some way we need to connect the dots, some way we need to say people who are pressing the button in the midwest or far west in the united states, and across the world. entire families and communities and women and children, people going to a funeral, people going to wedding party, are being blown up, and then here we sit,
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collateral damage, there nor civilians being killed. we need to connect these two very different worlds and see ultimately, is that what we, the united states of america, stand for? is that what we're exporting to the world? >> host: how do we connect with that in your view? sunny think the debate has to begin and the debate has to be multidimensional. more than just about security and about legality. it is that. it's very important, the crucial element inside any society but the united states also stands for morality, it thicks, the founding fathers, certain kind of society, a civilization, civility itself. washington's only book has the title "civility ." so these are crucial facets and features of the american vision, and i believe at it most profound they are challenging, and i think the debate will come. >> host: does the u.s. in your view, professor, have legitimate security concerns?
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>> guest: it does. it does. the united states was hit on 9/11. there's no doubt about it. completely out of the blue. one fine morning, as it were, and it has every right to be concerned and thus it has taken every kind of precaution, rightly, and has maintained that high level of security. its bam -- ambassadors were killed recently, we saw this diplomat killed in benghazi so we need to be concerned about it. at the same time the united states is more than just one aspect of its concerns about security. it represents something much bigger, and on the global stage, peter to me, at least, the united states symbolizes something i think very few countries symbolize and that is a vision of the world, a vision of society itself, which is different from other societies and that is essentially compromised when you have these killings which do not accept the normal processes of law, and end
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up by very often killing many, many more people than the so-called bad guys. >> host: ambassador akbar ahmed is a professor of islam studies here at american users, and a nonresident senior fellow at the brookings instance constitute, visiting professor at the u.s. naval academy. formerly served as pakistan's high commissioner to the uk and ireland, the author of several books. professor ahmed, are you a member of a tribe in pakistan? >> guest: that's a very interesting question. i had to ask that question myself as an anthropologist. it's critical to lay it out so everyone knows their prejudices. my mother is a -- i belief blood of the battan. my father is a sacred lineage going back to the holy prophet
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in islam, and there's the warrior, the man of action, and on the other hand, the person who wants peace and creates good will and brings people together and compassion, more thoughtful and even more mystical. and sometimes these two are in conflict in me, and i see this in me. so i found when i was doing the study i was able to get under the skin of the tribal people because that is also part of my heritage, but i could also recent reach out and find ways of bringing people together. it isn't just one point of the triangle. it's also bringing in the central government, and the united states, and the tribal people and their elders so that somehow together a dialogue begins and a solution is found to the predicament that the united states finds itself today. >> host: what's the role, though, of pakistan as kind of a manufactured geographically country? should it be split up? does it need to remain a nation of tribes?
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>> guest: well, you know, peter, if you go to any nation, whether it's pakistan or iraq, many of these nations are, as you said, just put together after the second world war. these are really modern states. they have an ancient hoyt. pakistan goes back thousands of years. but they have a modern history as a modern state. recent history. once they're made, it's very difficult town make them -- difficult to unmake them unless there's a crisis, as took place in pakistan in 1971. pakistan has to be very careful because their internal tensions today, and some of these are exacerbated by the drone strikes. right now the tribal areas are in flames. pakistan has lost something like 35 to 40,000 people. the armies involved every day you read in the news, 20 soldiers killed, 15, by suicide bombers. they, this turn, fight their own people and there's a conflict. muslims fighting muslims,
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killing muslims. it's internally creating a lot of tension in society. the government is not particularly popular. it's not seen as particularly competent so there are all kinds of internal tension. then recently some tension with india on the border, soldiers being killed on boast sights and we have to remember this is a part of the world which combined is one and a half billion people. a fourth of humanity. so i think the united states bag key ali of pakistan, pakistan is a major nonnato ally in terms of status. the interests of the united states is to keep pakistan steady to make sure that the features, the institutions, the foundations of democracy are strong. that a good, clean leadership emerges and that the people of pakistan are involved in the processes of law of decisionmaking, of democracy. >> host: at what point, professor in your view, did u.s.
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policy in afghanistan, troops in afghanistan, go awry? >> guest: i think, peter, initially the intention was good. both in afghanistan and iraq. i think there was great desire to promote democracy and so on. i think where it went awry was the fact that american troops arrived with very little. of those society -- very little knowledge of those societies. i have run waziristan, and very successfully. we tackled problems, and bad guys, et cetera, across the borders, without having to start using heavy artillery. where we went wrong is, had we known a bit more about the culture, the languages, the sensitivities, it would have made the task much, much easier for us, and that happened. the famous saying in iraq, all
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the attempts on one sunday were the result of some extraordinary soldiers like general mcchrystal, for example, who ban to understand that this straightforward confrontation will not work. they have seen the greatest conquers and come and go and have not been defeated. the british empire defeated. the soviets defeated. what made us assume that we are so different that we will deny history itself. at great costs to themself, they're fiercely independent. they fight with each other or foreigners or invaders. so had we understood the mechanics, the culture, i think we could have handled it differently. and then promoted what needed to be promoted and strengthen our own impact and footprint in afghanistan. education, health schemes,
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reaching out to local governments, awful these are wanted by the afghans. they would welcome the americans. is was educated in an american college, christian college. we produced several presidents of pakistan, member office parliament. every one of us is so great the american teachers who taught us. so why couldn't we give colleges and schools instead of wasting billions and billions in wars which in the end resulted in iran hitting us. >> host: you write bat recent survey of american and afghan soldiers. this is how the afghans view the americans. they always shout and yell and they are crazy. u.s. soldiers swear at us constantly, saying f.-u, their arrogance sickenes us. they don't care about civilian
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casualties. they pee all over, right in front of civilians, including females. >> guest: peter, quote what the american soldiers said. >> host: this is what the americans thought of the afghan forces. they are turds. i we're better off without them. i don't trust locals. i would never like to admit that iraqis are smarter but they're einsteins compared to afghans. these guys only seem to care about their own tribes. >> guest: back to the tribes. they're right. so, you see how interesting. this is an american survey conducted in washington. and this gives us an insight into two allies. remember, these or two sets of soldiers who are working together. shoulder-to-shoulder, whose job should be to protect each other, who have nothing but obvious contempt for each could that's alarming. because after a decade, if
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you're not able to make friends, in the very people who you invested billions of dollars, the americans have spent all this money trying to build up the security forces so when american leaves, these troops will take over and this is what they're thinking of. the americans. ask yourself the question, what is the legacy we're leaving behind? >> host: i want to go back to one of our only questions. do the afghans understand why american soldiers are in their country? >> guest: no. give you the survey. a lot of them believe -- that part of the world, including pakistan, including the middle east, is a great area for -- some would say it's access to the central asian gas and oil fields, some say mineral resources, some say geopolitics. very few would say this is because of the good intentions of the americans in promoting democracy. so, they would have a lot of
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very mixed responses. my own belief, after the study, that the -- iran, pakistani, generally don't understand why the americans are not there. they need to be there. that's a different issue and i've always supported the prepares of the united states. critical for the united states to have a presence there, considering the region. china on one side, india the south, russia to the north. united states can't just pack up and walk away. but are we able to convince the people there, our local hosts and potential allies, that we need to be there? that is the question. and that is where i believe there has been a failure. >> host: but we are -- our footprint is going to be much smaller after 2014. >> guest: that's a choice we're making and i'm not entirely happy. i would like a different kind of footprint. if you had conditionals like the one i went to, which is a university now, and they open -- if you had ten of these,
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throughout the tribal areas, think of the impact. think of the future generation, in one stroke you're changing the direction of a nation. if we value education, knowledge, law, a compassionate civil society, we must understand, peter so do the irans and pakistanis. we must try to convey this to them. not to suggest that soldiers and guns and missiles and drones because that will immediately have locals resisting. so the paradigm has to be thought out and that can only be thought out if the debate begins. so i'm hoping we'll act as a catalyst to this debate. >> host: professor, how does the sunni-shiite issue we have talked about play into this? >> guest: it does and it doesn't. it does in the sense that there
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is a large shia minority in pakistan, and afghanistan, and they play an important role in the army and various institutions. it isn't out in the surface yet. it's still under the surface. but what the suicide bombers are doing and the taliban are doing, because of their very extreme understanding of sunni islam, they're also targeting the shia. for example in pakistan, where i was commissioner, they killed 100 shia. that's appalling. a complete breakdown of law and order. no government can allow that and yet it happens. iran is a very strong, aggressive, shia power and it has interests in the region. so, again, it's on great game. balance has to be kept. so if you have an understanding in terms of the region, i think it can share. >> host: the country al -- of
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mali is entering. >> guest: you have being hearing about the tribes. they have been marginalized their lands robbed, million raleigh sources storm, really treated as third rate citizens on their own land by their central government. so their there comes a point when they say, enough is enough, we're going to react, and they react. unfortunately this is not a very civilized or very educated part of the world. these are tribesmen. most of them are illiterate. they only act according to their open tribal codes and the primary code is the law of revenge so they go out and go berserk, chopping people's hands and killing people the central government then responds with force. western powers get involve. and very quick live the cycle begins again. and again we are not
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understanding the dynamic. the dynamic is the center and. if you can help resolve that you have solved the problem. if you can't resolve that, hammering them and throwing bombs is not going solve it because the central conflict will remain untouched. >> host: you talk about the philippines. what's going on there? >> guest: same situation. exactly the same. a muslim minority group in the fringes in certain parts of the philippinesment they have been independent for centuries, and they're seeing the same process, the central government coming in very aggressively, taking their land, converting their lands into -- by settlers from outside into lands which suddenly they been a minority in their own land. and in the philippines i found something interesting. the philippines have taken an initiative to reach out to these tribal groups and bring them on board. and how did they do this? simply negotiated. you want autonomy, want to
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preserve your culture and customs? fine as long as you're not rebelling against the state we have no objection, and just that simple initiative, that simple human act, and the remarkable general who actually stood up -- a general, thing of it, american general doing this -- in front of the population and actually apologized. he said what we have done, atrocities and i opalinize, and people are trying, and the mayor was in tears. he reached out to the human side of the enemy. again, walking with the skin, under the skin of the other side. if you do that, things suddenly start changing, and i think, peter, we have to start using other paradigms in order to import some sort of stability and law and order in these rather turbulent regions of the world. >> host: what about the use of drones in the philippine? >> guest: they have been used. this whole drone program is
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covered with disinformation, obfuscation, vagueness. so we do know that they have been right up. the drones have been used there. maybe they were, maybe they weren't. this is another tragedy of the present situation. we can't say for certain -- for the study i asked a very distinguished senior american, i said who is behind the creation of these militant suicide bombers in the tribal areas of pakistan, and without thinking they said, pakistanis. and i said, well, why would they be wanting to blow up their own schools or buss? i asked pakistanis the same question. without hesitation, peter, they said, americans. now, if this is a situation on the ground where you have allies who don't trust each other, where you have the local people like the iran, have no idea why
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the americans are there, and you need a clarity of vision and that must come from washington. why? this is the superpower. this is a power that is driving the world in a sense, and driving this war on terror. what is the long-term vision of the united states for these societies? what does it want to communicate to them? and how is it going to set about doing this? that clarity will help and with light, darkness disappears. right now there's a lot of darkness around the drone program. >> host: professor ahmed, where did the title come from? >> guest: well, you know, peter, i'm a professor on campus and i love ideas. leo tolstoy wrote a november vela -- novella in which the character is accompanying the russian army and they're fighting muslim tribes, and he goes for a walk and finds a
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flower, and it's a thistle. a thistle is a very pretty flower, and he says these tribes are just like the thistle. and remember that the thistle is the symbol of scotland, and i know the scots have great respect and affection for them. the scots are very much like the thistle. they pride themself on their culture, they tradition. you can't walk over them. they give a very tough resistance to the english, and western comment taters have very often compared muslim tribesmen to scottsmen. so, very often -- who would compare pakistan in the tribal areas to the scots? just like the scots. they like the thistle. they're pretty and hard and they're very fiercely independent. so i thought that the thistle represented one kind of society today in the 2


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